Specialty Coffee Pros Must Fight Xenophobia
In an article published on the SCAA.org website, Peter Giuliano of Counter Culture Coffee discussed the importance of International Coffee Day, which falls on October 1st each year. Although that date has passed for 2016, I think it's worthwhile to reflect on what Giuliano notes about the importance of the holiday:
"[O]n International Coffee Day, we are called to celebrate the benefits of internationalism in coffee while we recommit to rejecting its ills, and seeking progress towards enlightened international exchange and solidarity. Today, we remind ourselves that the only way to move towards better quality, true sustainability, and universal prosperity in coffee is to embrace the global diversity of our trade."
Celebrating internationalism is an intrinsic part of being a specialty coffee professional. As a roaster of these coffees, it's my duty to not only properly present coffees through quality roasting techniques, but to pass along the knowledge that our product's quality depends squarely on the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the multitude producers, processors and exporters from around the world that Dan and I have partnered with.
For the first time in my adult life, I've seen a rapid influx of xenophobic sentiment pervading our country. I see it in the outward treatment of Syrian refugees, fleeing a wartorn homeland. I see it in calls for the construction of a financially wasteful U.S.-Mexican border wall. I see it in the increasing normalization of racial slurs and hateful rhetoric, especially among impressionable children.
The rhetoric of today's political climate should dismay any specialty coffee professional. It is we that build our organizations, our identities, our brands from the fruit of the next man's labor. It is our duty to shatter the attitude of mistrust being targeted at non-Americans, and to promote an internationalist perspective to our customers.
Thankfully, our arsenal for fighting this battle consists of beans, not bullets. It is through appreciation of each others' knowledge, culture, skills and art that can bridge the gap of hatred.
Whether specialty coffee professionals know it or not, they are on the front lines of this discussion. There are few commodities sold on our market that can display nearly so much nuance and diversity as coffee can. There are so few internationally traded goods that are quite so affordable as coffee. When considering the amount of coffee consumed everyday, it's truly a formidably sized platform. It's time coffee professionals recognize that their role can be significant in changing the perceptions of many through their approach to their trade.
We need to adopt new language as coffee professionals, and begin to focus moreso on the human narrative behind the coffees we roast and extract. The industry has done so well in sharing information regarding the cultivation and processing of these coffees, it's time we look beyond agriculture when we get to know the farmers, the pickers, our quality importers, and every hand that comes in between. It's time we begin to study the concerns of these people -- is their country also experiencing turbulent times? To "celebrate internationalism" we must delve deeper.
If we prefer to present our coffees as an art, but can't say a word about the realities of the growers' lives, it's like sharing a novel but omitting the author's name. Context can increase the breadth and vivacity of any artform -- and coffee is no exception.
These are the stories that can humanize and connect, and lift the veil of 'otherness' some may perceive from folks of a lifestyle or background different than their own. Spreading these stories and the knowledge of a broader human condition is just one small way our world can become a better place for everyone.
Thanks once again for all the love and support,